Whilst we’re looking at the words of the Dostoevsky experts, here is what Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury wrote for the preface of the Delirium script:
‘Almost all Dostoevsky’s fiction reads as if it is happening at high temperatures. Rapid and not always comprehensible speech, hallucinatory clarity which suddenly dissolves, baffling changes of emotional register – all these feverish symptoms mean that Dostoevsky’s characters are a lot more than just ‘realistic’ (a word he was suspicious of). But to say that he is the narrator of extremes, extreme circumstances and personalities, doesn’t mean that he has nothing to say to the supposedly ordinary experience of those whose temperature is rather lower.
Dostoevsky assumes that when you put human characters in something of a test situation, where the main thing they have to work at is their own emotions and interaction, you discover some – most – of the things that really drive them. You discover the questions that they are afraid to ask and the beliefs they are afraid to own in other circumstances. This makes sense of the way in which he handles issues about religious belief, a theme important in all his work but particularly prominent in Brothers Karamazov: the reality or otherwise of God isn’t to be settled by arguing about ideas. Put your speakers or characters to the test of extreme experience and you’ll see whether the possibility of God is or isn’t around; you’ll see whether someone is fundamentally wounded or crippled by the absence of God, whether the presence of God makes possible actions that fly in the face of bourgeois common sense. Dostoevsky is not very interested in arguments about religion between people with normal temperatures, because they don’t reveal the truth – which, for him, is that belief and unbelief are bound up with basic issues of sanity, self-knowledge and the imperatives of compassion beyond calculation. And, as Karamazov makes abundantly clear, they are bound up also with how you understand the way you have been parented, the way in which you’ve first learned how to be loved – or failed to learn this; and the nature of the images you then carry around with you which determine your sense of who or what you are responsible to.
Dramatising Dostoevsky means finding theatrical equivalents for the sense of soaring temperatures, not just reproducing the plot and dialogue of the novel. This play attempts to do just that, looking for ways of translating the violence, the terrible poignancy and the pitch-dark comedy of one of the greatest European writers of fiction.’
Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury
Dr Williams’ book on Dostoevsky, “Dostoevsky: Language, Faith and Fiction” is available here